Well I finally found out how the normal people live this morning. I joined the early “rush-hour” commute into Pensacola for a change. At six-thirty I was coming through the town of Pace, turning west onto Highway 90 to cross Escambia Bay to the big city. I was among the teeming masses who were playing Demolition Derby, all hell-bent on getting where they were going as fast as humanly possible. The sun wasn’t even up yet. Oh, it was a trip, man.
Trouble was, I’d been up since before three a.m., already been up to the airport, already flown the boss, already put the helicopter away and was headed back home.
I often look at people with normal jobs and wonder how it was that I ever chose this crazy career in aviation? Or did it choose me? I’m not really sure.
I have plenty of friends who work Monday through Friday and then have the weekend off. Nice, normal lives where they’re home and sleep in their own bed every night…nice, predictable lives in which can plan outings and holidays and vacations well in advance and stick to them.
Instead, I’m always leaving my house at 0-dark-thirty, long before dawn, driving the opposite direction of the few cars out on the road at that hour to some deserted, godforsaken airport where I’ll drag the helicopter out of the hangar and take off for…who knows where, sometimes? Or I’ll be straggling in the door well after midnight. Sometimes both in the same day!
I don’t work much, but when I do it often involves very early morning departures or very late arrivals back at base. Long days spent cooling my heels at some airport or, more frequently, some remote site out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve worked more weekends and holidays than I’d care to admit (like this past New Year’s Eve and Day), and I’ve spent a fair amount of time on overnight trips with the boss.
We had just such an overnight trip planned last week. It was supposed to be just one night away from home. But I know my boss. I packed for three nights, just in case.
On Tuesday morning, we took off early, bound for Eufaula, Alabama – or so I thought. After we’d been airborne for a bit, the boss casually mentioned what he’d be doing in Dothan that day.
“Dothan?” I said, a little puzzled. Chuckling, I reached up to change the destination in the GPS. Luckily Dothan and Eufaula are not that far apart and it only required a small course correction.
"Bob, you’re supposed to be able to read my mind by now," he chided me, grinning. "Sorry, I guess I forgot to tell you."
Eh- He’d also forgotten to tell me that our itinerary had completely changed, making it fortunate that I’d brought along multiple sets of underwear and socks. On the other hand, I don’t nail him down to an itinerary in advance. His life is just much too fluid. Most of the time, he just gives me our first destination so I know how much fuel to put on, then we go from there. It works for us.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I get paid very well to do very little. And the fringe benefits are terrific. It’s just that the schedule is a little…well…"irregular." It’s been that way since I got into aviation full-time back in 1982.
That’s just the way it is, the nature of this crazy industry. If you cannot be flexible…if you cannot go with the flow and be open for changes on-the-fly, you’re not going to enjoy this job very much. I know some people for whom this type of thing would drive them nuts. Fortunately, it does not bother me. Like I said, I’ve learned to pack extra clothes.
The Tuesday morning we left for Eufaula? I got home Thursday evening.